James Loney makes the best of it with the Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox gained a mountain of salary relief and four prospects when they traded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers on Aug. 25.

They also picked up first baseman James Loney, not that many people took notice at the time, so significant were the other aspects of the deal.

“To not be mentioned as part of the trade in most conversations is pretty awkward,” Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.

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Loney is the baseball equivalent of somebody climbing aboard a sinking ship. When the Sox blew up their roster, he was standing there when the smoke cleared.

“It was a little weird,” Loney said before the Sox played the Rays Wednesday night. “But you don’t really have time to think about it too much. There were games to play and you want to get your work in and do what you can. I just put my head down and played.

“It’s a little different, that’s how I would characterize it. With the Dodgers, I almost felt like I had been traded when I was there because the team was so different from when I started with them. I wasn’t playing with many of the same guys I started with. When I came here, it felt the same way, just a different stadium and a different league. It’s been fun. I enjoy it.”

Loney has started 20 of the 24 games the Sox have played since the trade. Entering Wednesday night he had hit .263 with a .611 OPS, statistics in line with his performance with the Dodgers.

“It’s been a tough season at the plate for me,” Loney said. “There’s a reason I got traded, right?”

Loney, 28, will be a free agent after the season. That will be a first for him and he’s eager to see what the process entails. If the Sox make him an offer, returning to Boston is an option that attracts him. But no one team stands out to him at this point.

“You don’t really know how you’re going to feel until when it happens. But it’s interesting,” Loney said. “The market will tell you what your value is.”

Loney did say that getting a taste of the American League after spending seven seasons with the Dodgers has him thinking.

“I like the American League better, actually, as far as the rules,” he said. “The DH, I like that. I like the way the game is played. You have that extra hitter and I like that idea.”

If the Sox were to bring Loney back, it might be as part of a platoon given how well the lefthanded hitter has performed (.295 with a .794 OPS) against righthanders in his career.

His defense also has merit. Loney is not at the same level as Gonzalez, but he is one of the better defenders at his position.

“I take pride in that,” Lone said. “When I was growing up I used to spend hours throwing tennis balls at the wall and pretend I was a shortstop. I try and play my position well. Hitting is not the only part of the game.”

Shortstop Mike Aviles, who was not too familiar with Loney, said the first baseman fit in better than any of the infielders expected.

Wednesday, for example, Loney grabbed a hard shot off the bat of Matt Joyce and saved what would have been an RBI double.

“He’s pretty impressive over there,” Aviles said. “When we lost Gonzo, that was a Gold Glove first baseman. He made our infield better. But Loney has picked some balls out of the dirt and made some plays that have made us all more comfortable as infielders.

“He has fit in here pretty well, too. He has a good personality and he’s a good all-around player. I had never watched him play much beyond spring training and now that I see him on an every-day basis, I appreciate what he can do.”

According to Valentine, Gonzalez covered more ground because he played so far off the line and he had good communication with second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

“There were probably 50 balls [Gonzalez fielded] that Dustin could have had the assist on,” Valentine said.

The Sox have told Loney to play first base straight up.

“It’s not because of a lack of range. It’s positioning,” Valentine said. “We don’t know James. It’s tough to group him now. I don’t know enough how he goes to his left to push him off the line.”

Loney, a first-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2002, has made a relatively clean break from the only organization he knew before last month.

“They have different ownership and a lot of different people there now,” he said. “I only follow what they’re doing a little. This is a new part of my career and a lot of things are happening. The game is universal and I feel like I’ll find a place somewhere, whether it’s with Boston or another team.”